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Consumer Culture is a Threat to Progressive Change

By Punkerslut


Image: "Manufacture" by NiD

Start Date: Monday, May 15, 2006
Finish Date: Sunday, May 28, 2006

"...for what they purchase thus with their blood, they quickly waste on luxury, which among them is but of a poor and miserable form."
          --Thomas More, 1516
          "Utopia," Book 2, "Of Their Military Discipline"

     There is no doubt that there is a great antagonism against consumer culture on the part of all Leftists, Socialists, Libertarians, Communists, and Anarchists -- in short, every group that can be called a class of reformer or revolutionary. Our reasoning is simple: there are things in life that have more value, meaning, and purpose than the manufactured products of a lifeless and mechanized society. Those of us who are convinced of this truth thoroughly enough will do what we can to escape the tyranny that is produced in the corporate-dominated, consumer culture. Many have escaped to the bosom of nature, taking a Thoreau-like approach to the question of "how should we live life?" Some have adopted an extremely open and loving sexuality as a means achieving fulfillment in a world that's too afraid to trust good will. Others have traveled the path of the old psychedelic guru, ingesting mind-altering chemicals as though they were the nutrients necessary for a fully developed and mentally healthy psychology. We are the artists who spit on artist organizations, the writers who mastermind brilliant ways to break grammar rules, the intoxicated friend at a party who admits what everyone is too afraid to say, the bombers of dams and the conceivers of boycotts; we are everything short of a complete and total revolution. There's a rag-tag, unregimented army of rebels, who are willing to spend their lives proving that absence of consumer culture doesn't mean absence of all culture. The development of real culture is only possible when the individual challenges their environment and makes demands on themselves to find the absolute and unadulterated truth -- that is, real cultural revolution is only possible when the individual doubts what they are told.

     A fair definition of Consumer Culture would be: relying on the owners of industry to produce for the people the main subject of their lives, that is, producing a culture for the people that revolves around consuming the products of this economy. The difficulty that many people have with this is that the interests of the ruling class are not quite the same as those of the ruled class. Corporations, such as Starbucks, WalMart, Nike, Adidas, Macintosh, and Shell, all manufacture their products in countries that exploit the working class. Many of the workers labor twelve to sixteen hour days in dirty, unclean factories, under threat of a violent military regime or the agonizing poverty created by Capitalist, Free Trade, and embargo policies of the United States and other nations. To trust those who created such a global calamity would be a great mistake. Trusting them to create culture for us, to create something beautiful, unique, and personally challenging to fill our lives -- to trust them to complete this task is only to make ourselves the slaves to their media. What concentrated economic powers have done to satisfy their interests has already been demonstrated. To trust them to make for us the meaning of life would just mean that we're subjecting ourselves to the mental shackles they so desperately wish to put on us. The message they give to you dominates conversations, thoughts, secret dreams, and painful aspirations. Social control is established in this means by Consumer Culture.

"We are provincial, because we do not find at home our standards; because we do not worship truth, but the reflection of truth; because we are warped and narrowed by an exclusive devotion to trade and commerce and manufactures and agriculture and the like, which are but means, and not the end."
          --Henry David Thoreau, 1863
          "Life Without Principle"

     One of the prime indicators of Consumer Culture is television. Mega-corporations fight with each other over the will of the people, by developing newer and more captivating advertisements, by dumbing down plot lines for television shows so they capture more viewers, special interests get their views in and the public just follows along. That is why television has become the daemon in the nightmares of every Freethinker. The History Channel, which is hosted by an American corporation, rarely displays the United States government in any negative light. The show Cops never shows a police officer failing to capture his victim. The plot lines for most sitcoms revolve around things like money, romance, popularity, and other themes that easily capture attention but always fail to plant something meaningful. Television programming has gone so far as to place advertisements as a part of the plot. Here, in the living room of every family, there rests a machine that is constantly feeding ideas to a listening audience. The plot lines, the themes, the ideals, the suggestions, hidden implications and subliminal advertising, all of it is to create a grasp of the way people think and act. By their means of massive distribution, the media has molded the opinions of billions of people. And who is it that holds the keys to this uninterrupted stream of suggestions to the public? It is anyone who has the money. That is the sole requirement that is necessary to reaching the minds of the public: who possesses the wealth.

     Consumer Culture will naturally incite a feeling of loathing and disgust when investigated by any independent thinker. Moreover than its innate failure to produce meaning or purpose beyond our immediate atmosphere, it is a detriment to something else: progressive change. This phrase progressive change is a very general term, meaning when society reforms, revolves, or adaptates to a new condition that is more beneficial to civilization. While every person is always in a state of perpetual evolution, sometimes steering towards good, sometimes falling towards bad, always in flux -- while we are always changing and progressing through life, the term progressive change here indicates a change in our customs, our laws, our culture, our ideals, our way of life, as it pertains to us collectively. It is a matter of interrelation. By indicating to my brothers and sisters what I believe should be the order by which we adhere to collectively, I am making a position on the matter of social progress. How can we change the ways we interact in a way that increases our benefits of working together in a mutual and cooperative environment? That is what progressive change means.

From RadicalGraphics.org
Image: From "Consumerism" Gallery from RadicalGraphics.org

"In capitalism they work long hours, all their energy is exhausted in the process of exploitation, and little mental power and fresh thought is left them. Earning their wage is the most immediate necessity of life; their political interests, their common interest in safeguarding their interests as wage earners may be important, but are still secondary. So they leave this part of their interests also to specialists, to their party politicians and their trade union leaders. By voting as citizens or members the workers may give some general directions, just as middle-class voters may influence their politicians, but only partially, because their chief attention must remain concentrated upon their work."
          --Anton Pannekoek, 1938
          "General Remarks on the Question of Organisation"

     Why Consumer Culture would be viewed by progressive revolutionaries as a threat is obvious. By directing the attention and the awareness of the public on a lifestyle that requires playing by the rules of the system, social and political change stagnates. The thoughts and ideas of the people in this society are focused on the issues that the corporations want them to be focused on. Profit is the sole interest of those broadcasting the message of Consumer Culture; so one can only truly expect to see a constant barrage of suggestions and implications on how to behave, what to buy, how to treat other people, who to admire, and what to believe on the matter of government, economy, society, and culture. All of these will be profit-driven. What is the message that it brings? It demands that people consume: a big car means that it's easier to sleep at night, a stylish jacket will attract the attention of the opposite sex, absolute true love is only one phone call away, you can make a million in three and a half days by following this seven-step plan, peace of mind can be obtained with four easy payments, consume, consume, consume.

     The immediate interest of a true consumer, then, is a self-interest that can only be satisfied by the products of this corporate mechanism. It is true that greed has become nature's way ever since the dawn of the idea of property. But our corporate system has greatly refined humanity's taste for elegance, luxury, and pleasure. In the Capitalist system, a person can get just about anything they want, so long as their pockets run deep enough. Such wonderful and pleasant schemes befall sleeping minds. The individual's interests then are focused on getting the wealth necessary to satisfy their consumption; they will be more willing to steal, to take advantage of the misfortune of others, to befriend and betray, to manipulate and deceive, to exploit the good will of another for wealth. All consumers serve this social order as employees and workers. They all trade their hours and their strength to labor in exchange for the wealth necessary to keep up their lifestyle. Consumer Culture's effect then is to create division and disorder among the public, to let their blood and drain their strength. And its secondary effect is to make it a goal for us to serve the financial dominion with our employment.

"If a finger burn, we care not for information on the properties of fire: if the heart be torn, or the mind overjoyed, we have not leisure for speculations on the subjects of moral sensibility."
          --Adam Ferguson, 1767
          "An Essay on the History of Civil Society," Part 1, Section VI

     Consumer Culture is bent on the competitive spirit. It asks that people throw their strength and energy against each other in order to achieve and accomplish. By seeking their satisfaction through the goods and services of their corporate overseers, the first goal will be to accumulate money to procure these substances. The impulse of greed becomes second nature. The person is always either engaged in some manipulation of their comrades or constantly under suspicion of the intentions of their siblings. Targets of property crime generally tend not to be the most wealthy. Those who steal from their fellow humans tend to be just as poor as their victims. Consumer culture has tempted daemons, and they are coming out. This system of free enterprise only asks individuals to seek and benefit from the misfortune of others. In a negotiation, if the individual with the strongest need is usually at the whim of the other's mercy. In a situation where someone has a strong enough need, they will enter into an agreement regardless of the terms; this, in effect, creates a slavery of one in favor of the other. So it has become the will and the nature of our Capitalist society to seek the misfortune of others.

     To make others need you so that you can satisfy your own self-interest at their slavery. That was the original idea of Capitalism. It was practiced by the coal barons who shut down their mines just to create an artificial winter in the cities, making the price go up along with profits. It was an idea expanded upon by all of the companies that worked to dominate their industry, gnashing against each other in the competitive field of business. And in its final state, this idea produces a way of life for people where they need the corporate product to satisfy their sense of meaning. This is the way our social order has been organized since the existence of property. But only with the emergence of Consumer Culture has it become so cutthroat in its tendency. Everyone is praying for the misfortune of others, only so that the newly arising need of others would be the stepping stone to their wealth. In such a world, all men and women are constantly seeking to exploit each other, never willing to trust, totally afraid to share, and certainly terrified of the idea of putting energy, will, and strength towards a collective effort.

'Escaping from the Cold, Harsh Realities of Consumerism' from PeaceLibertad Blog
Image: From PeaceLibertad Blog,
"LibertÚ" Gallery

"...the Much Making of Things, --- not the making of beautiful things, not the joy of spending living energy in creative work; rather the shameless, merciless driving and over-driving, wasting and draining of the last lit of energy, only to produce heaps and heaps of things, --- things ugly, things harmful, things useless, and at the best largely unnecessary. To what end are they produced? Mostly the producer does not know; still less does he care. But he is possessed with the idea that he must do it, every one is doing it, and every year the making of things goes on more and faster; there are mountain ranges of things made and making, and still men go about desperately seeking to increase the list of created things, to start fresh heaps and to add to the existing heaps. And with what agony of body, under what stress and strain of danger and fear of danger, with what mutilations and maimings and lamings they struggle on, dashing themselves out against these rocks of wealth! Verily, if the vision of the MediŠval Soul is painful in its blind staring and pathetic striving, grotesque in its senseless tortures, the Soul of the Modern is most amazing with its restless, nervous eyes, ever searching the corners of the universe, its restless, nervous hands ever reaching and grasping for some useless toil."
          --Voltairne de Cleyre, 1910
          "The Dominant Idea," Mother Earth Publishing Association

     The first effect of Consumer Culture is apparent: it creates a lust for worldly possessions that makes individuals hurt each other. Beyond this, it asks that, in order to satisfy the interest of the corporate product, we must exchange our labor and time. Our desire for the products of these corporations was manufactured by the marketing and advertising industry, feeling that it could create a sense of willingness to trust, desire, and protect the corporate world and its relationship to us -- that is, Consumer Culture. In the United States, we labor forty hours a week to earn the money necessary to satisfy these wants. A workday will consist of one to two hours preparation before work, to put on our uniform and eat. Public transit could take up to an hour to get you to where you work. Eight hours fly by. Another hour to get home. Twelve hours of the working class, blue-collar laborer are spent just for an eight hour payday. The modern inconveniences leave us with three hours to ourselves before we dive in to unconsciousness like we were dying. So much is sacrificed; we lose so much of our time, our energy and our strength in this mad rush to serve the corporate interest. Millions of people are in debt, because their working lifestyle spoiled their patience and turned them in to mindless animals seeking to cure their pain -- to cure it with the corporate product.

"The things the worker buys with his wages are first of all consumer goods which enable him to survive, to reproduce his labor-power so as to be able to continue selling it. And they are spectacles, objects for passive admiration. He consumes and admires the products of human activity passively. He does not exist in the world as an active agent who transforms it. But as a helpless impotent spectator he may call this state of powerless admiration 'happiness,' and since labor is painful, he may desire to be 'happy,' namely inactive, all his life (a condition similar to being born dead). The commodities, the spectacles, consume him; he uses up living energy in passive admiration; he is consumed by things. In this sense, the more he has, the less he is."
          --Fredy Perlman, 1969
          "The Reproduction of Daily Life"

     The debt consolidation industry continues to reap its profits as payday loan stores pop up alongside funeral parlors and pawn shops in the ghettos. It has always been the intention of the lords of industry to make the people need them -- to force them into a situation where they would agree to the terms of any contract. Consumer Culture is simply the sophistication of this method. By controlling all forms of media and all information, corporations are capable of gaining more social control; and this is accomplished by making the people need the system more, by changing their attitudes. With all of our time and efforts sacrificed to this monolithic beast, we have few moments to ourselves. Those few moments are spent trying to kill the pain that came with this type of lifestyle. We don't read old books about philosophy and political theory. We don't admire the ideas of Locke, Machiavelli, and Bentham, nor do we appreciate the poetry of Shelley, the prose of Thoreau, or the written word of Paine. Consumer Culture has buried the working public and it has left them with no way to get out and no chance to plan or plot for their escape. When people are put into these type of oppressive situations, where so much must be given to live, where so many sacrifices are made to appease our constant inner turmoil, in this type of world situation, people will be bitter, cynical, and hopeless. They will turn against each other with ferocity, sometimes to seek out vengeance or mastermind an exploitation; after living in this type of conditioned society, we seek to lessen our pain by causing the same misery on others. And anyone who is capable of surviving without making the same sacrifices as us is instantly detested and hated, as though we were xenophobic to outsiders.

"...what happens to every individual when he passes from childhood to adolescence and from youth to manhood. He loses what had hitherto guided his life and lives without direction, not having found a new standard suitable to his age, and so he invents all sorts of occupations, cares, distractions, and stupefactions to divert his attention from the misery and senselessness of his life. Such a condition may last a long time."
          --Leo Tolstoy, 1908
          "A Letter to a Hindu: The Subjection of India - Its Cause and Cure"

     Can you imagine trying to develop a revolutionary and progressive movement in this type of atmosphere in Consumer Culture? If you asked your coworker to unionize with you, they might tell you that they can't afford to go on strike because they're still making payments on their new car. Or they might have no idea what the principle of solidarity means, or what a true working class ethic might entail. Eleven to twelve hours of their day is spent in either preparing or going to work or actually laboring. What's left over isn't spent in intensive thought on social issues or matters of political justice. The other three to four hours left over is used in a mad rush by the citizen to alleviate the pain that was built up over the day. It's the kind of pain that comes from doing thousands of mindless, repetitive tasks in a single day. The kind of misery that boils from supervisors and managers treating demanding obedience and respect constantly. It is the stress from customer service jobs and bruises that come from physical labor employment. When work ends, people run from their place of employment, seeking refuge in some escapist, fantasy-inducing activity. The next three to four hours used to help them forget what was necessary to get to this point of the day. Drug addictions become favorite pastimes in this type of environment. By teaching people to need and satisfy their needs, Corporate Culture turns people into self-destructive zombies who serve the interest of the wealthy class.

"We suffer, these days, from a bad habit. We eat 'fast food,' nibble at 'fast ideas,' scan 'fast headlines,' and buy our panaceas in the form of easily swallowed pills. The need to think out the logic of certain premises is almost totally alien to the 'American Way' of the late 20th century."
          --Murray Bookchin, 1988
          "The Crisis of the Ecology Movement," Published in "Green Perspectives"

     Like a person inflicted with a burn wound, the employee released from his labor in capitalism seeks to relieve his pain immediately and quickly. And the only cure for the suffering caused in this life is constantly advertised, on television, radio, buses, billboards, and a million other places where billions of eyes will be watching. They cause our pains and then are quick to profit off of our headful of suffering. To so control the lives of the common people, by forcing them into eight-hour daily slavery, by dominating their media with a pro-consumption message, by manufacturing these conditions that put chains on the wrists of every person -- this is real tyranny. Capitalism can produce nothing else, and this Consumer Culture is just the most refined and sophisticated form of wage-slavery in any post-industrial part of the world.

     They ask us to seek satisfaction in cooperation with each other in order to secure their interests. That is the principle effect of Consumer Culture. As Libertarian-Communists, Anarcho-Syndicalists, and Revolutionary Socialists, whatever name we decide to call ourselves, we must oppose Consumer Culture, and any other chains that the oppressors attempt to put on us and our people.

U.S. World War 2 Poster, Edited by Punkerslut
Image: U.S. World War 2 Poster, Edited by Punkerslut

"The worker who once took pride in the thoroughness and quality of his work, has been replaced by brainless, incompetent automatons, who turn out enormous quantities of things, valueless to themselves, and generally injurious to the rest of mankind. Thus quantity, instead of adding to life's comforts and peace, has merely increased man's burden."
          --Emma Goldman
          "Minorities Versus Majorities"

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